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Saturday, December 31, 2016

#Book #Review: 4 out of 5 stars for Death of a Cupcake Queen by Lee Hollis @LeeHollisBooks @KensingtonBooks

SERIES: Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails Mystery, Book #6
AUTHOR: Lee Hollis 
PUBLISHER: Kensington
PUBLICATION DATE: May 26, 2015
FORMAT: Paperback
LENGTH: 315 pages
GENRE: Mystery/Cozy Mystery
ISBN: 9780758294531
As the food and cocktails columnist for the Island Times, Hayley Powell attends a lot of events—but this one will be murder…

On the eve of her high school reunion, Hayley dreads seeing the trio of mean girls who used to torment her: Sabrina Merryweather, Nykki Temple, and former prom queen Ivy Foster. These days Ivy wears a different crown as the cupcake queen—and flaunting her success is just the icing on the cake.

But maybe the prom queen should have been voted Most Likely to Die. At the reunion, Ivy is found murdered, cupcakes scattered around her. Is a killer out to teach the mean girls a lesson? As Hayley tries to get the scoop, she’ll have to be careful…or someone may be writing this columnist’s obituary next.

Includes seven delectable recipes from Hayley’s kitchen!

MY REVIEW:

This cozy mystery was a great whodunit, and which had a lot more going on than what first appeared!

Hayley Powell is a single mom of two teenagers, who works for the local newspaper. Her boyfriend is a veterinarian, and she writes a culinary column in the local newspaper. With her high school’s forthcoming 20-year reunion, Hayley is not looking forward to seeing some of her classmates. You know the ones, the snobby girls who made everyone else’s life miserable! Somehow, Hayley ends up getting roped into preparing all the appetizers for the big event while one of the former queen bees, Ivy Foster, offers to bring her trademark cupcakes which have made her into a successful businesswoman. Before anyone can sample Ivy’s treats, she is bludgeoned to death in the kitchen!

This was a fun cozy mystery that kept me guessing! My favourite character is Police Chief Sergio Alvares, who is married to Hayley’s brother. Since English is not Sergio’s first language, he butchers common English expressions which had me laughing out loud! Even though I jumped into this series at Book #6, I was able still able to follow along with no problems. However, I would like to start the series from the beginning to learn the backstories of all the characters, in particular Hayley’s ex-boyfriend.

MY RATING:

4 stars!! It was really good, and you should put it on your TBR if you enjoy cozy mysteries!

This book qualifies as:

Friday, December 30, 2016

#Book #Review: 2 out of 5 stars for A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

AUTHOR: Dylan Thomas 
ILLUSTRATOR: Trina Schart Hyman
PUBLISHER: Holiday House
PUBLICATION DATE: September 1, 1985 (first published 1952)
FORMAT: Hardcover
LENGTH: 48 pages
GENRE: Classics, Holiday/Christmas, Childrens
ISBN: 0823405656
A lost but not forgotten childhood is evoked in this nostalgic recollection that endures as one of the most beloved Christmas stories of all time.

Trina Schart Hyman's sensitive illustrations reflect the joy and magic of a special day in the youth of Dylan Thomas.

MY REVIEW:

I was really looking forward to reading this Christmas classic, but it did not live up to my expectations.

Dylan Thomas is a new-to-me author and Welsh poet. In this classic, he recounts the Christmases that he spent in Wales as a child. It wasn’t at all what I expected, and I found it rather boring. The most amusing part of the story was when “…Auntie Hannah, who liked port, stood in the middle of the snowbound back yard, singing like a big-bosomed thrush.” Later on towards the end of the book, he writes “Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death, and then another in which she said her heart was like a Bird’s Nest; and then everybody laughed again; and then I went to bed.” All I really gained from this story was that Auntie Hannah liked to drink! I was looking for something really heartwarming, and this wasn't it.

MY RATING:

2 stars!! Meh, it was just "okay."

This book qualifies as:

Thursday, December 29, 2016

#Book #Review: 3 out of 5 stars for The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan @AmyTan @PutnamBooks

AUTHOR: Amy Tan 
PUBLISHER: G.P. Putnam's Sons
PUBLICATION DATE: March 22, 1989
FORMAT: Hardcover
LENGTH: 288 pages
GENRE: Classics, Cultural/China, Contemporary
ISBN: 9780399134203
In 1949 four Chinese women-drawn together by the shadow of their past-begin meeting in San Francisco to play mah jong, invest in stocks, eat dim sum, and "say" stories. They call their gathering the Joy Luck Club. Nearly forty years later, one of the members has died, and her daughter has come to take her place, only to learn of her mother's lifelong wish-and the tragic way in which it has come true.

The revelation of this secret unleashes an urgent need among the women to reach back and remember…

MY REVIEW:

I can’t believe this is Amy Tan’s debut novel! She hooked me from the first chapter.

This is an interesting story about four Chinese women, who are friends, and their daughters. The story opens with Jing-Mei (“June”) Woo, whose mother (Suyuan Woo) has passed away. June is meeting her mother’s three friends, the group known as The Joy Luck Club who met each week to play mahjong. We learn how Suyuan had to flee from Kweilin to Chungking ahead of the Japanese during World War II, and her mother took everything that she could carry including twin baby girls. As she grew weary, she was forced to leave things on the road including those babies!! Her mothers’ friends, her “aunties” as she affectionately refers to them, tell her that her mother tracked down her half-sisters from Kweilin and they are still alive. Her aunties have pooled their money together to buy June a ticket to travel to China, so that she can meet them.

The book continues, with each of the following three chapters devoted to the other three ladies from The Joy Luck Club. We learn about their backgrounds and what trials they’ve gone through in their lives and their own relationships with their mothers and how that shaped them. The following four chapters are devoted to each of the daughters and their relationships with their mothers, and how the influence of growing up in America has changed them and how their upbringing is so different from their own mothers. The subsequent four chapters continue with the daughters and their respective careers and relationship woes with their own spouses. It is an interesting comparison to see how like and unlike the daughters are to their own mothers. The last four chapters are again devoted to the four mothers and their involvement in their daughters’ lives, with the book finally ending with how it began with June’s anticipated trip to China.

By far, my favourite part of the book was story of Suyuan Woo. I do love how the book started and ended with her, and the story was such a heartbreaking and tragic one. I loved learning about the Chinese culture, customs, traditions, and how each of the families immigrated to the United States. With the four different families, I did find it a bit confusing and hard to keep each character's identity straight. I do appreciate that the author included a table at the beginning of the book that lists the mothers and their daughters, but I did find that I was constantly flipping back and forth to the table at the beginning of each chapter and to the “mother” chapters to refresh my memory on the details and which daughter belonged with which mother! I wish the book had been more cohesive as a whole and, for me, that made the difference between liking it and loving it. Having said that, I do enjoy Tan’s writing and plan to read more of her work.

I have requested the DVD from the library and will come back to add my thoughts on it.

MY RATING:

3 stars!! It was good, and I enjoyed it.

This book qualifies as:

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

#Audiobook #Review: 4 out of 5 stars for The Book Thief by Markus Zusak @Markus_Zusak @LLAudiobooks

AUTHOR: Markus Zusak
NARRATOR: Allan Corduner
PUBLISHER: Listening Library
PUBLICATION DATE: September 26, 2006
FORMAT: Unabridged audiobook
LENGTH: 13 hrs and 56 mins 
GENRE: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
It's just a small story really, about, among other things, a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can't resist: books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids - as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.
MY REVIEW:

This was a touching story of one German family who showed kindness to a Jew, at a time when they were being persecuted.

The story takes place in Germany during World War II. A nine-year-old girl named Liesel Meminger is travelling to Munich with her younger brother, Werner, and mother. Unfortunately, her brother dies on the train. When they get off the train to bury her brother, Liesel steals a book. Liesel’s mother is ill and takes her to Hans and Rosa Hubermann, who will be Liesel’s foster parents. Liesel actually does not know how to read, so Hans teaches her and reads the book to her that she stole, which turns out to be a gravedigger’s handbook. Rosa is a very brusque woman who insults everyone by calling them saumensch (pig girl) or saukerl (pig man). However, we later see as the story goes on that she uses these names as terms of endearment. The Hubermanns take in a young Jewish man named Max Vandenburg, and they hide him in their basement. Liesel and Max form a unique bond, and they share that they are both haunted by their dreams. Liesel also makes friends with a local boy named Rudy Steiner, who accompanies Liesel on her book burglaries. When the mayor’s wife cancels her laundry service with Rosa Hubermann, Liesel breaks into her house and steals books from their massive library. When the town’s residents have to seek refuge in bomb shelters, Liesel reads these books to them to pass the time.

This book is filled with examples of kindnesses shown from one to another during a very dark time. On one occasion, Hans Hubermann gives bread to a Jewish prisoner on his way to the concentration camp and Hans gets whipped for it. We also learn that the mayor’s wife was aware that Liesel was stealing her books, and she leaves her a note and invites her to use the door the next time.

Interestingly, this book’s narrator is Death and we are given lots of foreshadowing of what is about to take place. I thought that this gave the book a unique perspective.

Narrator Allan Corduner is new-to-me, and he was amazing! He brought this story to life, and he portrayed each character so well. Here is a sound clip of the narration:



I have requested the DVD from the library and will come back to add my thoughts on the movie.

MY RATING:

4 stars!! It was really good, and you should put it on your TBR list if you enjoy historical fiction!

This book qualifies as:
#72 for my 2016 You Read How Many Books? Challenge
#72 for my 2016 Outdo Yourself Reading Challenge
#4 for my European Reading Challenge 2016
#9 for my 2016 Chubby Chunkster Challenge
#26 for my New Author Challenge 2016
#20 for my 2016 New Narrator Reading Challenge
#26 for my 2016 New To You Reading Challenge
#65 for my Backlist Books Reading Challenge
#49 for my 2016 Audiobook Challenge
#34 for my 2016 I Love Libraries Reading Challenge
#9 for my 2016 Eclectic Reader Challenge
#8 for my 2016 Book to Movie Challenge
#18 for my 2016 YA Reading Challenge
#5 for my Winter 2016-17 Bookish Bingo Challenge
Task #15 for my Goodreads Winter Seasonal Scavenger Challenge

View all my reviews

Waiting on Wednesday: The Continent by Keira Drake @keira_writes @HarlequinTEEN #WaitingOnWednesday


"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Here is this week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection:


TITLE: The Continent
SERIES: The Continent, Book #1
AUTHOR: Keira Drake
PUBLISHER: Harlequin TEEN
EXPECTED PUBLICATION DATE: January 3, 2017
FORMAT: Hardcover
LENGTH: 320 pages
GENRE: Young Adult, Science Fiction/Dystopia
ISBN: 
9780373212392
For her sixteenth birthday, Vaela Sun receives the most coveted gift in all the Spire—a trip to the Continent. It seems an unlikely destination for a holiday: a cold, desolate land where two “uncivilized” nations remain perpetually at war. Most citizens tour the Continent to see the spectacle and violence of battle—a thing long vanished in the Spire. For Vaela—a smart and talented apprentice cartographer—it is an opportunity to improve upon the maps she’s drawn of this vast, frozen land.

But an idyllic aerial exploration is not to be had: the realities of war are made clear in a bloody battle seen from the heli-plane during the tour, leaving Vaela forever changed. And when a tragic accident leaves her stranded on the Continent, she has no illusions about the true nature of the danger she faces. Starving, alone, and lost in the middle of a war zone, Vaela must try to find a way home—but first, she must survive.

Gorgeous cover! I love dystopia and survival stories, so I think I'd really enjoy this one!


What are you waiting on? Please leave a comment in the section below. If you participate in this meme, please leave a link so I can visit your blog!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

#Book #Review: 3 out of 5 stars for Mistletoe Murder by Leslie Meier @lsmeierbooks @KensingtonBooks

SERIES: Lucy Stone, Book #1
AUTHOR: Leslie Meier 
PUBLISHER: Kensington
PUBLICATION DATE: December 1, 1998 (first published 1991)
FORMAT: Paperback
LENGTH: 209 pages
GENRE: Mystery/Cozy, Holidays/Christmas
ISBN: 9781575663708
In Lucy Stone's debut -- now in its third printing -- the mystery-solving mom takes time out from her hectic holiday schedule to discover who murdered the owner of the town's famous mail-order company.
MY REVIEW:

Lucy Stone works nights taking orders by telephone for a local mail-order company. The evening is slow, and she is having trouble staying awake. Her co-worker suggests to her to take a little break, and Lucy decides to stretch her legs and go outside for a bit of fresh air. She hears the engine of a car running, so she walks over to the parking lot to investigate and notices that her boss’s car is idling. There is a black hose on the car’s exhaust pipe running to the driver’s window, and she tries to open the car door but it is locked. She pulls the hose out of the car and runs back to the building to call for help.

I enjoyed this cozy mystery, which is the first book in the bestselling Lucy Stone series. Lucy is a very likeable character. She’s thoughtful and likes to help others, which is how she became involved in this case. There was one thing about the book that rubbed me the wrong way, when the author referred to “Mrs. Stone’s retarded brother.” Given that this book was first published in 1991, I will give the author the benefit of the doubt as this was written before the age of political correctness. I still plan to continue on in the series.

MY RATING:

3 stars!! It was good, and I enjoyed it.

Top Ten Best Reads of 2016 #TopTenTuesday


This is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, they post a new Top Ten list that one of their bloggers will answer. Everyone is welcome to join!

Today's list is: 

Top Ten Best Reads of 2016 
(regardless of publication date)



So, what books were your favourite reads of 2016? I love receiving book recommendations! Please let me know in the comments, or leave me a link to your blog post if you are also participating in the meme!

Monday, December 26, 2016

#Book #Review: 5 out of 5 stars for A Magical Christmas by Heather Graham @heathergraham @penguinrandom

AUTHOR: Heather Graham 
PUBLISHER: Topaz
PUBLICATION DATE: November 1, 1997
FORMAT: Paperback
LENGTH: 330 pages
GENRE: Holiday/Christmas, Romance
ISBN: 9780451407962
Jon and Julie Radcliff are facing the last Christmas of a marriage in trouble. The love they once shared has been tattered by time and torn apart by divergent goals. Their teenagers, Christie and Jordan, are rebellious, and their youngest child, six-year-old Ashley, is showing the hurt and confusion of her family's turmoil. Yet somehow the Christmas season must be gotten through even if it is only a game of let's pretend we are the way we always were. The perfect place for this make-believe is the Oak River Plantation in Virginia, a place of simple values, far from their sophisticated and difficult life in Miami. Here the Radcliffs are promised a traditional Christmas with all the Yuletide trimmings. So imagine their surprise when they are met by the quaint couple in charge, Jesse and Clarissa Wainscott, dressed in costumes dating from before the Civil War. Have they somehow entered another world that spans the gulf between past and present? Before Jon and Julie and their children can uncover the secrets surrounding their mysterious but marvelous hosts, they become aware of some profound truths about themselves. And suddenly they discover that love lost can be found again, making the bond of marriage and family strong enough to survive, even triumph.

MY REVIEW:

I am definitely not a Harlequin girl, but I absolutely loved this holiday romance!

The book starts off in 1862 at the time of the American Civil War, and General Custer has ordered the hanging of five Confederate soldiers on Christmas Eve. The 25 men are supposed to draw straws, with the ones drawing the five short ones to be hanged. The Captain simply cannot stand by and allow five of his men to die, so he volunteers to take the place of the youngest, a 13-year-old boy who happened to wind up with them only because his parents were believed to be dead and he had nowhere else to go.

The story then moves to the present day, where we meet the Radcliff family. Things are not going well between Julie and Jon. Jon makes Julie feel that her job as real estate agent is second fiddle to his job as a lawyer, and he leaves her with the responsibility of getting the kids off to school and the housework plus working full-time. Julie feels like she is doing it all, with no help from Jon. They have three children: Ashley (age 6), Jordan (age 13), and Christie (age 17).

Jon sees an advertisement for a holiday vacation at a remote, old-fashioned Virginian plantation. He wants the family to get away for Christmas and to disconnect from their demanding jobs to focus on their family. For him, he sees it as a last-ditch effort to save his marriage. Julie has so much resentment and anger towards Jon, who had an affair, that she really just wants to end the marriage and move on. However, she agrees to go away on a family vacation one last time to give the kids a nice Christmas.

When the Radcliff family arrives at Oak River Plantation, they are in awe over the rustic and historical feel of the home. The owner’s wife, Clarissa Wainscott, is dressed in a period-appropriate long dress with petticoats which is very fitting for the home’s style. At first, Jon and Julie engage in outdoor activities with the kids separately but they both find that they long to do things together. The magic of Oak River Plantation does wonders for the couple, and they come to the realization that what each of them wants is not so dissimilar.

Heather Graham is a new-to-me author, and she totally blew me away with this captivating story! I literally could not put it down! I cringed at how Jon and Julia treated one another. They were downright mean and disrespectful towards each other, and I was a bit horrified! However, I do think that it is probably more realistic and common than people want to admit. My heart ached at their pain, but I also revelled in their times of joy! I was utterly swept away with the historical aspect of the story and Oak River Plantation’s history. I loved how Graham weaved the two eras together seamlessly. This is an emotional second-chance holiday romance, that gave me all the right feels to put me into the Christmas Spirit! I loved it, and I plan to add this one to my annual Christmas reading list. I can’t wait to read more books by this author.

MY RATING:

5 stars!! It was superb, and I absolutely loved it! I plan to re-read it next Christmas!

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


This weekly meme is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

I'm still reading: 

Something from the library, which has been on my TBR list for a long time. It was really busy last week with trying to get everything done for Christmas, so I'm hoping things will quiet down now and that I can finish this one this week!

AUTHOR: Amy Tan 
PUBLISHER: G.P. Putnam's Sons
PUBLICATION DATE: March 22, 1989
FORMAT: Hardcover
LENGTH: 288 pages
GENRE: Classics, Cultural/China, Contemporary
ISBN: 9780399134203
In 1949 four Chinese women-drawn together by the shadow of their past-begin meeting in San Francisco to play mah jong, invest in stocks, eat dim sum, and "say" stories. They call their gathering the Joy Luck Club. Nearly forty years later, one of the members has died, and her daughter has come to take her place, only to learn of her mother's lifelong wish-and the tragic way in which it has come true.

The revelation of this secret unleashes an urgent need among the women to reach back and remember…


I'm listening to:

Another one from the library, which has been on my TBR list for a long time.

AUTHOR: Rebecca Skloot
NARRATORS: Cassandra Campbell and Bahni Turpin
PUBLISHER: Random House Audio
PUBLICATION DATE: February 2, 2010
FORMAT: Unabridged audiobook
LENGTH: 12 hrs and 30 mins 
GENRE: Biography, Memoir, Nonfiction
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells, taken without her knowledge, became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first immortal human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than 60 years.

If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they'd weigh more than 50 million metric tons - as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings.

HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bombs effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Now, Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the colored ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henriettas small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia, a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo, to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.

Henrietta's family did not learn of her immortality until more than 20 years after her death, when scientists investigating HeLa began using her husband and children in research without informed consent. And though the cells had launched a multimillion-dollar industry that sells human biological materials, her family never saw any of the profits. As Rebecca Skloot so brilliantly shows, the story of the Lacks family, past and present, is inextricably connected to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.



I just finished:

AUTHOR: Markus Zusak
NARRATOR: Allan Corduner
PUBLISHER: Listening Library
PUBLICATION DATE: September 26, 2006
FORMAT: Unabridged audiobook
LENGTH: 13 hrs and 56 mins 
GENRE: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
It's just a small story really, about, among other things, a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery.

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak's groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can't resist: books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids - as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

What are you reading? Have you read any of these books and, if so, what did you think? Please let me know in the comments and, if you are also participating in this meme, leave me a link to your blog post so that I can stop by!
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